India holds its biggest election day
India held the biggest day of its mammoth general election today, with a quarter of its 815 million-strong electorate eligible to vote, in an ongoing electoral process that takes place from April 7 to May 12.
This week has been one of fresh blows for the ruling Congress party and gains for the Hindu nationalist opposition. Narendra Modi, the prime-ministerial candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been wooing voters with promises to rescue India from its slowest economic growth in a decade and create jobs for its booming young population.
In the latest large opinion poll, the BJP and its allies were forecast to win a narrow majority in the 543-seat lower house of parliament, compared to previous surveys predicting that they would fall short.
Indian elections are notoriously hard to forecast due to the country's diverse electorate and parliamentary system in which local candidates hold great sway. Opinion polls wrongly predicted a victory for a BJP-led alliance in elections in 2004 and underestimated Congress's winning margin in 2009.
Voting took place in 120 constituencies across 12 states, from the fractious Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir - where election materials had to be airlifted to some remote polling stations - to the lush state of Karnataka whose capital is the IT and outsourcing hub Bangalore.
The world's biggest ever election is taking place in nine stages from April 7 to May 12, with results due on May 16.